This week, I read a fascinating op-ed piece by Jonathan Balcombe in Live Science. It immediately reminded me of an article by University of Toronto Professor, Jeffrey Moussaieffe Masson, titled The Emotional Lives of Animals. And I began to feel more convinced that other species in our world might be more in tune with their emotions than we are.
Lakshmi Sawitri on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAs the youngest of five children, I recall going fishing with dad and brothers. I distinctly remember seeing my brother remove a hook which had pierced the lower jaw of a fish.
I asked him, doesn't that hook hurt it? But my dad reassured me, "Oh fish don't feel pain." To my relief, that fish was thrown back. And I never went fishing with them again.
A few months ago, I saw a video shared on Facebook of a fish that had been released by a man. Incredibly, the fish swam away for a few seconds and then returned to "thank" him. I was stunned - I knew it couldn't possibly be staged. See the clip next.
Man Releases Fish, It Keeps Swimming Back
Published on Aug 29th, 2014 by Jason Pugh
Where Did These Beliefs Come From?
David~O on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericAnyone with a pet will attest that their animal or creature expresses feelings and emotions.
For humans, the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Professor Albert Mehrabian found that only 7 percent of communication is verbal; 93 percent is non-verbal.
That statistic seemed mighty high to me. But it made sense when I found out what comprises the non-verbal component; body language makes up 55 percent and tone of voice about 38 percent.
So how is it that we came to believe some animals and creatures have no feelings or emotions?
Well, in part because of how we view their anatomy - their brain and nervous system. Their brains are tiny compared to ours and their nervous system (at first glance) might seem inferior or too simplistic.
Plus, we don't speak their language. We cannot detect the same sound frequencies that some animals can. So, I feel it is possible that we cannot detect other ways that animals and creatures communicate. Echolocation is one example.
liz west (calliope on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIt's possible that religious beliefs may have also played a part. Fellow writer Emily Heeb's article Do Animals Go To Heaven? Pope Francis Says Yes!, had a welcome message for Catholics and others.
Pope Francis quoted the apostle Paul when he stated:
"One day we will see our animals again in eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all God’s creatures."
Yet predecessors (such as Pope Benedict XVI) declared the opposite when in 2008 he said, "For other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death just means the end of existence on Earth."
The "end of existence on Earth" for many of us equated to having no soul (and therefore no deep emotional or spiritual connections).
The first time I was taught to view animals as simply reacting to external stimuli was via classical conditioning in my earliest biology classes. Known as Pavlovian Conditioning, dogs in particular were proven to salivate as a reflexive response.
But I know people who do that too, I thought.
Trish Hamme on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIn the Oxford journal Integrative and Comparative Biology, Marian Dawkins touches on this shortsighted view in her paper Animal Minds and Animal Emotions.
A few passages worthy of note:
It does not take much intellectual effort to experience pain, fear or hunger. We can be conscious of a headache or afraid of flying without being able to put the experience into words or reason about it.
An early advocate of the notion that animals do have conscious emotional experiences was Jeremy Bentham (1789) who wrote: "The question is not, can they [animals] reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?"
If animals do experience fear and pain and if they experience frustration as a result of being unable to perform their natural behaviour patterns, then this has legal and ethical importance and in turn may have major economic consequences.
I think this is precisely why it is hard for us to view animals as emotional or able to feel the same types of pain that we can. For if they can, it seems barbaric to consume them or use their bodies for our selfish reasons - doesn't it?
Up next, a two minute video of a baby elephant and a sheep who became fast friends.